Congratulations and thank you, Congressman Lee Zeldin!
In an election year where there is often a lot of political posturing and little policy substance, New York’s freshman Congressman from the First District here in Suffolk County made a strong statement about the power of peer support as a key ingredient in enhancing the care of our Veterans who have struggled with post-service transitions.
A few comments are warranted here to make clear exactly what peer support is:
- Peer support is delivered by trained and supported peer specialists. Too often, people perceive it as just about “one person talking to another who has also ‘been there’.” Peer specialists have ‘been there’ but also receive specialized training in how to engage and coach people to navigate through health, social, emotional challenges, and more.
- Peer support is an “evidence-based practice” under the Federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. What that means is that there is evidence that shows trained peers help to reduce hospitalizations and emergency room visits and enhance treatment compliance. Just like when we seek a treatment for cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and other serious impairments and diseases, we want to choose among treatments that are supported by valid and reliable, research. This is also the case for good mental health care.
- Peer support complements mental and physical health care. A central tenet, and high value, of trained peers is the privacy of the relationship and the confidentiality of the conversations. However, a common outcome of these relationships is more effective use of treatment options, primarily because people often become at ease with their peers to discuss their fears or confusion about treatment approaches.
Congressman Zeldin, himself a Veteran, knows the value of peer support. Veterans and their families (yes, families get peer support too!) will benefit in their own formal
processes and outcomes with an increase across the country of a phalanx of peers who work just to the side of this system.
It’s not just an emotional argument for peer support. The Congressman is “spot on” with expanding the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project across the country. To that end, our organization will be reaching out to our national mental health and peer organizations to help promote this excellent piece of legislation.
Newsday: Lee Zeldin proposes $25M veterans counseling program, February 14, 2016. Learn more.